U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III receives the UVA Law diploma of late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy on behalf of the Kennedy family (University of Virginia School of Law)
When former U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1959, he was too busy to collect his diploma—he was already hard at work on the presidential campaign of his older brother: John F. Kennedy.
His J.D. diploma finally made its way to the family on May 18, when dean Paul Mahoney presented it to U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy, Ted Kennedy’s grandnephew, during this year’s commencement ceremony.
The UVA Law Student Bar Association had asked Joseph Kennedy—himself a Harvard Law graduate, former assistant district attorney and congressman from Massachusetts since 2013—to deliver the law school’s commencement address.
Following a speech in which he told graduating students that they have the power and responsibility to shape the future of the nation, Mahoney presented Kennedy with his great-uncle’s diploma.
It turns out that Ted Kennedy never gave the registrar a forwarding address. The office held onto his diploma for 55 years. Ted Kennedy died in 2009 after serving in the Senate for nearly 47 years.
Finally, university president Teresa Sullivan enlisted Mahoney to deliver the diploma to Ted Kennedy’s family. He planned to send it to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, an organization that seeks to educate the public about government. “Then it dawned on me that, because the students had invited his grandnephew, it might be fun to personalize the transfer,” Mahoney said. “I think the audience enjoyed it.”
Kennedy said that he would give the diploma to his great-uncle’s widow, Vicki.
That wasn’t the only late delivery during the commencement ceremony—the school also hooded a 1958 graduate, retired Virginia judge Bert Sachs, who also had been unable to attend his commencement. Sachs accepted the honor alongside his granddaughter, graduating with the class of 2014.
As for the Ted Kennedy’s diploma, it was good close the loop, Mahoney said. “Ordinarily, it does not take us 55 years to straighten out this sort of thing,” he told the commencement audience. “But better late than never.”